Republicans are hailing public opinion surveys showing a surge in support for President Bush during last week's Republican National Convention in New York. But Republican and Democratic leaders say they expect the race to tighten once again in the days and weeks ahead.
For months, polls have shown an even race between President Bush and Senator Kerry. After the Democratic National Convention in July, a few polls registered a small and fleeting rise in support for John Kerry. Others showed no improvement at all for the Democratic challenger.
But last week's Republican National Convention appears to have generated the first major shift in polling data in several months. A poll by Newsweek magazine conducted Thursday and Friday shows President Bush jumping out to an 11 point lead, 54-43 percent, over John Kerry. The lead is identical whether or not independent candidate Ralph Nader is included in the survey.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who lauded George W. Bush at the Republican National Convention, says he is not surprised by the so-called post-convention "bounce" for the president. Mr. Giuliani spoke on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday.
"The momentum is going in the president's favor," said Mr. Giuliani. "The [Republican National] convention was hugely successful. It turned out to be one of our most successful conventions ever [for Republicans]. And the president's speech, he laid out a specific agenda. It was almost as if he was the challenger and John Kerry was the incumbent."
If sustained for the next eight weeks, an 11-point lead would virtually guarantee President Bush's reelection. But neither Republicans nor Democrats are predicting Mr. Bush's post-convention surge in popularity will last into November. Missouri Democratic Congressman Dick Gephardt spoke on CNN's Late Edition program.
"I always expected the president to get a bigger bump [bounce in popularity] out of his convention," said Mr. Gephardt. "It came later. He is president of the United States. People are going to pay attention [to him]. But I really believe a week from now these poll numbers will fall back to what this race has been, and that is a dead heat."
Polling data show President Bush as the clear favorite among voters on questions of national security and keeping America safe, while Senator Kerry fares better on some economic issues.
Addressing supporters at a rally in West Virginia Sunday, Mr. Bush repeated his contention that the war on terrorism had to include removing former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.
"We knew Saddam Hussein's record of aggression and support for terror," Mr. Bush said. "We knew his long history of pursuing and even using weapons of mass destruction. And we know that, after September 11 , we must think differently about how to defend our country. We must take threats seriously, before they fully materialize."
John Kerry has criticized President Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq as well as the lapses in U.S. intelligence that preceded it. But Senator Kerry has said that, knowing what he knows today, he would still have voted to authorize the president's use of military force in Iraq. Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press program, Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham said there is nothing inconsistent about Mr. Kerry's position.
"What Senator Kerry has said is that, if he had taken the country to war based on what he knew at that time, he would have taken it to war in a different fashion," said Mr. Graham. "It would have been with allies, with a clear plan of occupation and exit from Iraq."
Mr. Graham added that the war in Iraq has been a distraction from what he termed the "real war on terror," which he said should focus on al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.